On the art trail in Oslo? It's a scream!
As the work of Edvard Munch is celebrated in a new Tate Modern exhibition, Mark Rowe tours the artist's home town
Sunday 24 June 2012
For a nation of just five million people, Norway has thrown up a large number of artistic giants, not least Edvard Munch. Last month, an original of his painting The Scream fetched $120m (£80m) at auction in New York. Munch comes into focus again on Thursday, when London's Tate Modern begins a major retrospective of his work. It aims to show that there was more to Munch's oeuvre than The Scream and more to the man than a tormented artist. Fans can anticipate plenty more next year – 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Munch's birth, with Oslo preparing a comprehensive series of exhibitions and reviews to mark the occasion.
But Munch wasn't the only tortured genius to hang his hat in Oslo, as this slice through the Norwegian capital, from north-west to east, testifies. Start at the sprawling Vigelandsparken, named after the prolific sculptor Gustav Vigeland, and admire his signature creations of feverish stone figures, from babes in arms to withered ancients, which are scattered around the park. They line a bridge – the most photographed is the Sinnataggen, or angry boy, who looks disconcertingly like William Hague – and climax in a monolith of writhing humanity overlooking the city.
Stand-alone sculptures pop up all over the park. On the western edge, a museum records Vigeland's life, times and inspirations, and shoehorns within its walls an extensive collection as well as changing exhibitions by other sculptors (00 47 2349 3700; vigeland.museum.no).
Leaving the park at its eastern periphery, cross Kirkeveien and head along Gyldenlovesgade, a serene residential road lined with stately homes, many decorated with bas-reliefs. Bear left along Colbjornsensgade where shop fronts are exquisitely framed by arched brickwork façades of yellow and green and wrought iron balconies.
The end of Colbjornsensgade brings you to the top of the city's central park, Slottsparken, and the main entrance gate to the royal palace and its ceremonially dressed sentries. Swing right, briefly, down Parkveien and then left along Henrik Ibsensgate. You can't miss the US embassy building here, but a few doors down, at no 26 is the Ibsen Museum (00 47 2212 3550; ibsenmuseet.no). The 19th-century apartment where he lived is resplendent with original period furniture and details Ibsen's dysfunctional relationship with his wife, Suzannah, whom he – not always affectionately – referred to as "the eagle".
A few metres further downhill, the road becomes Stortingsgata and at no 22 you'll come to Bocata (00 47 22 41 6200; bocata.no) a sleek café whose display is crammed with rolls and pastries. A latte and wienerbrod (pastry) will come to Nkr65 (£6.80).
From Bocata, cross the pedestrianised space below the National Theatre to Oslo University (uio.no) on the corner of Universitetsgata. Munch was commissioned to paint a series of monumental murals in the university's assembly hall, which are open to the public (Tue to Thurs, 10am-2pm from 3 July to 2 August). Munch found the task of executing the frescos so stressful that it contributed to his faltering mental health.
A few paces further along Universitetsgata is the National Gallery (00 47 2198 2000; nasjonalmuseet.no; Nkr50/£5.30). Up to 20 of Munch's paintings are always on display here, including the original Scream.(He painted four versions.)
From the museum, turn left along the wide boulevard of Karl Johans Gate which features as a backdrop to many of Munch's paintings. Half way down at no 31 stands the Grand Hotel (00 47 2321 2000; grand.no). The young Munch would sketch in the café and traded off a painting for food and drink and bartered in similar fashion for a pair of resoled boots from a cobbler outside the hotel. The Grand's interior, fitted with chandeliers and solid wood panelling, is dominated by a spectacular screen painting of the great and the good of 1920s Oslo. The green suited and introspective Munch is easy to spot.
Munch often met Ibsen here and before the two men fell out over an unpaid bill, he produced a series of portraits of the playwright. Munch certainly captured Ibsen's magnificent sideburns and managed to do so in a manner that echoes the contours of The Scream. The ghost of Ibsen remains firmly in situ in the form of his top hat, placed on a table and with a basket of his favourite tipples: champagne, port and absinthe.
At the bottom of Karl Johans Gate, walk through the Ostbahnhalle shopping centre and take the elevated walkway to the opera house, Oslo's latest piece of signature architecture.
The Munch Museum at 53 Toyengata (00 47 2349 3500; munch.museum .no; Nkr95/£10.20) holds the other two originals of The Scream in public hands, but is a 30-minute walk to the east. To reach it, hop on the metro from Gronland to Toyen station. (If you're determined to walk, then you can retrace your steps from the opera house to the station and then pick up Storgata to where it forks and joins Trondheimsveien and cross the botanical gardens to the museum.)
This museum is where you can peer into Munch's hinterland, from emotionally charged pictures of family bereavements to the artist's striking portrayals of lovers depicted by lithographs and woodcuttings. Together with scraps and snippets of his life such as his crayons and sketchbook, they reveal a more rounded picture of the man.
Mark Rowe flew with SAS (0871 226 7760; flysas.com) from Heathrow to Oslo Gardermoen from £145 return. Gardermoen is also served by Norwegian (020-8099 7254; norwegian.com) from Edinburgh and Gatwick and British Airways (0844 493 0758; ba.com) from Heathrow. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies to Oslo Torp from Stansted, Gatwick and Liverpool.
Clarion Hotel Folketeateret, Storgaten 21-23, Olso (00 47 22 00 57 00; clarionhotel .com). Doubles start at Nkr795 (£85), including breakfast.
The Oslo Tourist Board's Guide Service (00 47 22 42 70 20; guideservice.no) offers a series of guided walks throughout the summer months from Nkr150 (£16) per person.
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